architects fees - new poster, old question I guess

Well after reading the FAQ I'm not hopeful of much light being shed on this but I have nothing to lose except a shreck of diginity.
I'm ready to build my first house. Spent 1.1 mil on a block of about 8000 sq ft and have been trolling the architecture mags etc. for inspiration. I hate most of what I've seen. Found one design I really liked - it won an award, quite a prestigous one in my country. The design isn't suitable for my purposes but I thought hell, this guy has guts and vision, he could be the one for me.
So I called him up and we had a meeting on site. I gave him the dream brief - a list of accomodation I need, a few guidelines about light, materials etc. that I like - and told him he could go nuts with the design. I want a house that might win an award. A house some people will hate, but I'll drive up to every night and think, man, that is some piece of design.
I gave him a budget of 800K and he's come back with a quote of 15% plus plus plus (subconsultants like gardener and town planner, courier fees, variations etc.) So that's $120K+ for a resi project - to design, spec, tender and administrate. He will do concepts for $5K.
I tend to think he's gone for the jugular because I flattered him for his award. He has a few other designs on his resume (he's probably been practising about 10 years), but few are finished yet. They seem generally OK. he works with 2 partners, one of whom I met. They talked the talk.
I have a commercial project going at the moment where I've been quoted a lump sum that amounts to about 8%, for the same scope of works. Same guy is doing my bush retreat for about 5% but the cost will run over so he'll be up for more like 4%. He's competent but his designs aren't outstanding. On this project he quoted about 8% as well.
So the short question - for an [apparently] innovative architect with one award and a short history, isn't 15% a bit ambitious? Would I insult him by querying the rate? If I pay him $5K for concepts but go no further, am I entitled to put his best ideas forward to the architect I eventually go with?
Ok so that was the long question.
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Where is this 8000SF lot? If it's in the Northeast, $800K doesn't buy much house, especially one with tons of custom design features.
The 15% fee is very high if it doesn't include full architectural services being, Documentation. Programming, Schematic Design, Design Development, Contract Documents (including Construction Docs, Specifications, Bid Set, Bid Package, Contractor Selection, Contract Preparation, DOB file set), and full Contract Administration to administer said construction contract.
If the fee is all encompassing, the 15% could due to the architect estimating on endless amounts of custom detailing that really eats up design time. Also, fame does lead some architects to charge more so long as clients are willing to pay.
I've been published and have received awards but for full services (as described above) my fee usually caps at 10% of the construction contract. That percentage fee is more common and more appropriate or at least more standard.
Pierre Levesque, AIA plevesqueATconnarchDOTcom

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Cunningham wrote:

We won't beat you up, too bad...

Spent 1.1 Million on the LAND and expect to build for $800K? I'm not sure that ratio is entirely correct, unless you're not stateside (which it sounds like you're not). $800K really doesn't get you as much as you think it does anymore in the US. That's about 4000 sq. ft. @ $200.00 / sq. ft., which isn't that much - depending on your expectations.

I'd love to get 15%... but the reality is that few clients/budgets/projects warrant that much of a fee. I'd take it you paid us for it, but we wouldn't charge you that much - of course, we haven't met you yet. We do have a PITA increase for certain clients to cover the PITA they're going to be.
What would our fee be? I don't know until I see your project and site, but it won't be 15%--even with landscape engineers, etc.

Hmmm...scary. I always worry about people who don't speak "normal" human.

Sound like this guy is closer to reality... You state "his designs aren't outstanding". I've said it before and I'll say it again. The best designs come from the best clients. Clients that let their architect design rather than micromanage the process end up with better designs/projects. He may not have the "best" designs, but that's because he hasn't had the best clients, yet.
Which is something to think about. The guy with the 15% fee...what do his clients think? Have you talked to them. Sure, the project may LOOK good, but does it function? Did the architect force something on them? And, award winning design...well, I subscribe to the Groucho Marx idea of I'd be worried about anybody who'd give me an award ;)

No...don't do that. 15% is very ambitious, and he might be right (but I doubt it). I've learned that clients who shop fees aren't clients for us...we charge a fair fee for what we do, but we're not cheap. Having said that, we're also not 15% on that scale of project. If you pay him for design ideas, you'll be saddling the future architect with a project that isn't his...and that won't be a good way to go. Trust me.
Personally, I think your paying for ego. If you want to pay for ego, go right ahead. Otherwise, let me know how to contact you offline... I'm sure we'd be less that 15%, including travel, and still be a "wow" design.
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The other reality is that architects are constantly crying poor. I'm curious about the apparent contradiction.
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gruhn wrote:

True...
Mostly, I get worked up when I talk to real estate agents. There is a racket... The effort to payment ratio is all screwed up there.
I think the profession, and it's a thing the profession has done to itself over the years, has screwed itself out of prestige and the associated money. The profession has also done its best to give away significant portions of the building process to limit its liability...and these portions are probably fairly lucrative.
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Pay an artist you like to come up with some drawings and show them to a builder. Award winning architects and in Australia do just that.
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15% on that kind of commission from an architect who has established himself as "the Man" in an area (assuming North America) is at the higher end of fees, but not too unusual. It does depend on the fine print somewhat.... What's included? What's not? Is it explicit in the proposal? For that money they should be picking and designing and coordinating *everything*, IMHO. (No extras.)

These are different contexts, so no surprise there. Houses have a lot of design in them, especially ambitious ones.
Design=Time, Time=Money. You are also much more likely to fuss over every little detail of your home. That takes time too.

Long answer:
Getting one guy to 'just draw up' another guy's ideas is tricky, unless guy #2 is a doormat, and that has it's problems too.
I had some clients who spent a fortune on "award-winning guy number 1" who drew up a design, and then left them hanging because he was 'too busy' to do a house anymore. (He may have had another reason...wait for it...)
They went to "doormat number 2" who did whatever they asked, and modified the original design until it look like the worst piece of dreck. They knew it. Then, like Goldilocks, they sought out a small guy who wasn't a push-over, and who understood design, to modify the design. Someone recommended me.
I discovered and quickly reported that award-winning guy number one had done schematic design for a house (for the same money as my entire fee) that could not be built...if you wanted any drains in it. It also had various unworkable spaces (bachelor's loft kitchen), was about 60% over budget, and had failed to adequately investigate/understand/accommodate the regulatory restrictions on the site etc., so I advised them to scrap it and start from scratch, which they did.
I still remember their faces when it sunk in that they had been 'had' by award-winning guy number one, and that what he had done was probably actionable, but probably not worth pursuing by busy, successful people. They bounced back quickly like successful people do.
I have also had the pleasure of taking over projects from other strident "award-winning famous guys" who bullied the clients until they were sick of them, and have declined to hold the bag for other "award-winning world-famous guys" who had designed stuff they didn't know how to build.
If you chase the "award-winning famous guys" you will likely have to pay for the privilege. Someone will tell you that it makes you cool (probably a friend of "award-winning famous guy"). That may be worth money to you. However, if you are discerning you might identify someone with talent, good judgment and a lower profile who might just make you a better product for less money, but that would take more effort on your part.
I've never followed someone else's design, so I can't advise on the last point. I have had my schematics developed (poorly, but more economically) by others, but, to me, it isn't worth worrying about. There's no shortage of ideas.
--


MichaelB
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Thanks for the various replies. Interesting that all but one presumed I was in North America, which I'm not.
What I didn't mention was that client of the Award Winning House was the architect's parents. So no impartial recommendations there.
What is also astonishing me is how much boxy dross is being built in the cities of Australia - and by the international publications I'm reading - all around the world. I'm tipping you guys would blame the clients - which may be so, but where does that leave guys like me? I don't have the imagination to design my own place. I guess I will pay 3 or 4 firms $5K each for concepts and consider it a cost of the job. And I suppose if I decide this guy came up with the best design, I can show him 3 other quotes of say 10% and negotiate his fee from there.
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LOL... Priceless. My mommy and daddy had a ton of money to throw into this commission and let me do whatever I needed to launch my career. Many famous guys started that way. Anybody still remember "the Whites"?

I think the truth of it is that designers need conceptual room to maneuver, and that sometimes clients are the ones placing the most restrictions on them, and rightly so. There are other too, of course, like zoning by-laws, building codes etc, but those are generally accepted as 'givens'.
You don't have to have any ideas for your design, in fact what we are saying, if I may speak on behalf of the others in the band, is quite the opposite: keep an ***open, yet critical mind*** when presented with a design. Try to understand the inter-connectedness that each decision has with others, and the prioritizing that the designer has done. Don't go to a designer with a preconceived yet not thoroughly resolved idea for them to "just work out the details". That is the death of a design opportunity, and happens all the time.
Working out the details of a design decision is how you learn to design: what works and what doesn't. The two cannot be separated without a cost of some kind.
BTW, the boxy nature of your environs is probably primarily driven by the ***scarcity of money***.
--


MichaelB
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I should probably add that as a client I wouldn't be writing any conceptual blank checks either. Any designer worth his salt should be able to explain if not defend his choices in a project, and discuss the alternatives and their repercussions. That will reveal his priorities and his process.
As soon as you make a design move, you don't make a range of others. Each choice is also a sacrifice. No design can do everything, so judging a design comes down to how you like the set of choices that are being made, and how they suit your purposes.
As for assuming you were American, I find they are the most prone to assuming that the internet is local, so when you see that assumption built into a post, say by virtue of NOT saying where you are when germane to your question, it's natural for readers to respond with their own assumptions.
--


MichaelB
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He said he wasn't in the USA or Canada. That was what got me about the US assumptions.
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Not initially. Not until I said "assuming North America".
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I did a decent budget re-design house for a friend in Brisbane who bought a basic high-end pre-construction development home a few years back who wanted the plans altered and the "look and feel" completely changed. He was an old High School buddy who is one of the Cathay Pacific pilots doing the Hong Kong/JFK runs. High-end homes were selling for about $400SF back then and he put in another $200SF for the changes. I sure hope your expectations are realistic with your $800K budget...
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Cunningham wrote:

I don't think this is the best way to go. Find somebody who you trust to do the design work for you. Then, let them go at it. Paying 3-4 firms $5K AUD ($3891 USD) is a waste of money. Pick a firm, and as part of their fee, they're to present you with 3-4 different ideas. You'll pay them more than you would without that stipulation, but more than you would with 3-4 firms.
How do you find a firm? Word of mouth. Find out who designed stuff you like and ask who designed it. Spend more time up front finding the firm rather than the designs...it'll pay off in the long run.
I'd love to do it (I think)...mostly because it's -11F (-24C) right now... and I'd love a trip to Australia to warm up a bit.
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Don't they have heaters in the rinks out by you?
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Michael Bulatovich wrote:

Warming houses for the outdoor rinks...
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I also ran the currency conversion from AUD to US... $800,000 AUD is only $622,664 USD. $622,644 will get you a decent house, but unless it's smaller, it's not going to be a "Wow" house for that money.
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What award? What manner of judges? So what?

This is a telling phrase. It means you don't really know what an architect is for.

Whose dream?
This is an important question for being able to answer your question.

Why?
I don't.

Of course.

And you wouldn't have been surprised if he hadn't actually done any work in that time?

1 - of course 2 - how do you know?

Of course.

Is the project? Is acxcepting on the client?

This isn't a cotillion. Who gives a fuck.

Read the contract.
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snipped-for-privacy@rararchitects.com opined thusly:

The relevance is that is its effect on how much he thinks he can charge. But since you ask, the judges were the panel of the national association.

No, it shows that you aren't thinking outside of your own head. The award winning design was for a 1BR weekend retreat. I want a city home.

Most architects, I assume, like a client who gives them a concise summary of the accomodation they need, complete creative control, has a realistic budget for the project, and says "design me something so radical it wins an award'. Beats designing public housing for the council I'm sure.

Because if he designs me anything like what I see being built in this city it will be more of the same old crap and sure as hell wouldn't win any award. I don't care if it wins one or not.

But you don't say why. It seems logical to me. Someone calls you cold and says "I saw your award winning design, I love it, I want you to design my house". You aren't going to be shy on your pricing. Hell I wouldn't be, and architects have egos.

That was not my implication. I was actually hoping to see more than "a few".

You are trying to tell me I'm an idiot. His designs look like everyone else's and don't have any natty features that make me go "oh that's cool". Ergo by definition they aren't outstanding.

Just establishing etiquette. You're very aggressive. Are you an architect? Not mine I hope.

See above.
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